“Riverbed” deals with the loss of a child by married couple Adam and Megan in a freak drowning accident. Told alternately by each of them speaking directly to the audience, the play is very poetic in the way of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood or Lanford Wilson’s The Rhymers of Eldritch. Under Matthew Rauch’s understated direction, the play beautifully sustains its elegiac mood. Things in nature (the river, a heron, their cat, etc.) reflect the various stages that Megan and Adam go through on their way to getting on with their lives and their eventual coming to terms with their loss. Its very discreet and low-key narration makes the bereavement even more poignant though it is told in reflection. Adam Green and Miriam Silverman are heartbreaking in their very unassuming, simple and direct way of capturing grief without actually describing it. Although we never actually see the river that flows past their house, it becomes a very tangible presence in this brief, evocative piece.
Warren Leight’s “Sec. 310, Row D, Seats 5 and 6” is the most ambitious of the three plays as it attempts to cover 20 years in the lives of three friends who share a two-seats subscription at Madison Square Garden for the Knicks games. We observe them from the time of the television broadcast of the O.J. Simpson car chase in 1994 for the following twenty years and from their conversation during the games learn of their girlfriends, their elderly parents, and later their wives, children and divorces. Subscription holder Roman (Peter Jacobson), contending with an aging hoarder of a mother, is vocally grouchy and irritable as he watches his team repeatedly lose. Eddie (Geoffrey Cantor), who has a father who is a judge, can’t commit to his long-time girlfriend. The imperturbable Josh (Cezar Williams), a professor with family money, talks of his two children, his wife, and later divorce which comes as a surprise to his friends. Although they threaten not to renew the subscription as they watch their team miss the playoffs year after year, the one constant in their lives is their devotion to the Knicks. As Eddie’s father tells him, “At the end of the day, I don’t care who wins or loses. I just hope you boys see a good game.”
The play is performed like Thornton Wilder’s The Long Christmas Dinner, Paul Vogel’s The Long Christmas Ride Home and Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal in which each time a character exits and another one enters, years have passed although no one seems to age and the setting remains the same. While the play cleverly delineates male bonding, other than that their shared love of their team is the one constant in their evolving lives, the play doesn’t have much new to say. It isn’t news that most men continue to support a team of their choice from youth on regardless if the team wins or loses. Jacobson, Cantor and Williams create very different type men who remain entirely consistent throughout the years. Unfortunately, under Fred Berner’s direction each short scene is like every preceding one. An interesting premise, “Sec. 310, Row D, Seats 5 and 6” remains on the level of a clever idea that ultimately doesn’t go anywhere.
The theme of men’s friendships when they are away from their women is also evident in the curtain raiser, Roger Hedden’s “The Sky and The Limit.” Aldie and George are hiking in one of America’s western deserts so that George can find the “most scenically awesome place on Earth” for his wedding to Shawnee. High on mushrooms while trying to find the perfect spot, George attempts to jump from one mesa to another and misses. While he is trying to recover, the two young men in their twenties discuss sex, women and weddings (what else?) and amuse themselves by impersonating Shawnee’s parents Lloyd and Ruth who are certain not to want to plan a wedding in the desert, despite the view.
What begins as comic turns serous. Unfortunately, the play never rises above the level of anecdote and if it was intended to have a more mystical message about finding the hill beyond the hill, it does not register. Alex Breaux as the more sophisticated and knowledgeable Aldie and Shane Patrick Kearns as the more dense and unworldly stoner George are fine but they cannot add the depth that is not present in the script. In the underwritten role of Ruth, Allison Daughtery makes little impression. Director Billy Hopkins keeps the dialogue rolling along with a nice flow but ultimately none of it seems meaningful.
The single production team for all three plays has done a fine job. Rebecca Lord-Surratt’s light-colored wooden slats backed by a clear sky works beautifully for all three plays, requiring no time between plays. The costumes by Meghan Healey are exactly right for these characters. Greg MacPherson’s bright lighting floods the stage with sun for all three plays performed as if outdoors. Nick Moore is responsible for the appropriate sound design and the original music. Summer Shorts – Series A is joined on July 26 by Series B which includes new plays by Neil LaBute, Albert Innaurato and Daniel Reitz, and both bills continue in rotating repertory until the end of August.
Summer Shorts: Series A (performed in rotating repertory through August 30, 2014)
59E59Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org
Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission